How to Deal with Fear in Dogs – DogTime

jessica desrosiers May 8, 2023

(Photo credit: Capuski/Getty Images)

A fearful dog may miss out on fun activities with other pets and people, hide from new situations, and cause more anxiety and stress. But what causes fear in dogs and how can you help? Learn more about fear in dogs, the reasons behind it, and steps to take to reduce your dog’s stress.

Why are some dogs afraid?

Dogs can become fearful for a number of reasons; namely, issues of genetics, trauma, and socialization. Some breeds are naturally shy, such as toy breeds like chihuahuas, Pekingeseand Maltese. Breeds of dogs created for the protection or guardianship of livestock as Akitas and great pyrenees You can also be naturally wary of others.

However, trauma and socialization issues are the biggest factors behind fear in dogs. If you have recently rescued a dog with a history of trauma, you may associate certain people or situations with a bad experience. Poor socialization can cause a similar fearful response. However, with socialization, the root cause is a lack of exposure to various situations rather than a reaction to them.

How is fear in dogs?

Fear in dogs can manifest in many ways — and varies by dog. Most dogs follow the “fight or flight” response, and some will even display a “freeze” response when faced with a frightening situation. Dogs that exhibit the flight response will often try to avoid or move away from the situation. They can tuck their tails in, hunch their bodies to look smaller, moan or scream, run and hide. You may see them under the bed, in the bathtub, or in a dark room.

Dogs that have the freeze response will go completely silent when faced with a frightening situation. You may notice wide eyes like saucers, excessive yawning, tail tucked, body hunched over, and your dog may urinate or yell. Lastly, dogs that have a fight response may act aggressively when faced with a fearful situation. They may growl, snarl, and focus their attention on the person or thing causing the fear. A very fearful dog may also snap or bite hard enough to cause injury.

Tips to help a fearful dog

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help a fearful dog. If your dog’s fear is manifesting as aggression, it is best to seek the advice of a behavioral vet in your area. Aggression can cause harm to other people or pets and should always be done under professional supervision.

For dogs dealing with trauma or lack of socialization, training classes and help from a trainer can also be helpful. They can work with you to start a plan to gradually desensitize your dog to the frightening situation. This is often through a training technique called Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT). This helps dogs get used to things that scare them by getting used to it slowly over time, with lots of positive rewards.

At home, you can use some similar training techniques. You’ll want to start turning scary situations into positives by associating people and places with good things instead of bad. If your dog is afraid of new people, ask a person to throw her a treat each time she comes to visit (without further interaction). If your dog is afraid of a place, he can spend a few minutes in that area, giving him treats and praise all the time.

If at any point your dog shows signs of fear or discomfort, stop training and take a break. Do not pressure your dog to continue, as this may reinforce the fear response rather than the positive one. You can try again later.

Fear in dogs can be a frustrating experience for many reasons. But, training, persistence and a lots of love it can help your dog adjust to a happier and fearless life.